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Context of 'June 4, 2006: American Bar Association Votes to Investigate Bush’s Use of Signing Statements'

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Congress passes the Competition in Contracting Act. President Reagan signs the bill but issues a signing statement instructing the executive branch that a portion of the bill is unconstitutional, and directs agencies not to obey the law created by that section. A losing bidder who would have won a contract under that portion of the bill files a lawsuit, and a federal judge rules that the Reagan administration has no choice but to follow the entirety of the law. Attorney General Edwin Meese insists that the executive branch has the inherent power to interpret the Constitution as it sees fit, and declares the administration will not obey the judge’s ruling. An appeals court upholds the judge’s ruling and criticizes the Reagan administration for trying to seize a sort of line-item veto power without going through Congress. The House Judiciary Committee votes to cut off funding for Meese’s office unless the White House obeys the court rulings, and Meese withdraws his objections. [Savage, 2007, pp. 231-232]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, House Judiciary Committee, Edwin Meese, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Calabresi joins the Justice Department. Calabresi is a young conservative lawyer who has clerked for appeals court Robert Bork, who failed to secure a position on the Supreme Court just months before (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society of conservative lawyers and judges, joins forces with another ambitious young Justice Department lawyer, John Harrison, and the two begin working to expand the power of the president. Calabresi and Harrison decide that an aggressive use of presidential signing statements can advance the president’s authority to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. Unfazed by a recent judicial rejection of just such signing statement usage (see 1984-1985), Calabresi and Harrison write a memo to Attorney General Edwin Meese advocating the issuing of more signing statements as part of a larger strategy to increase the president’s influence over the law. Calabresi and Harrison are interested in how what they call “activist judges” use the legislative history of a bill that became law to interpret that law’s meaning in subsequent judicial actions. The two lawyers believe that by issuing signing statements, the president can create a parallel record of presidential interpretations of potentially ambiguous laws to help guide judicial decisions. Meese approves of the idea, and in December has the West Publishing Company, which prints the US Code Congressional and Administration News, the standard collection of bills’ legislative history, begin including presidential signing statements in its publications. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call Meese’s move “a major step in increasing the perceived legitimacy of the device.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232] In 2007, Calabresi will say: “I initially thought of signing statements as presidential legislative history. I’ve subsequently come to think of them as being important vehicles by which presidents can control subordinates in the executive branch. They subsequently came to be important to the unitary executive [theory of presidential power].” [Savage, 2007, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: John Harrison, Charlie Savage, Federalist Society, West Publishing Company, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Steven Calabresi, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Ralph Tarr, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, drafts a memo explaining how the White House has issued signing statements up until now (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), and makes recommendations on how to improve the process. Tarr, acting at the behest of an aide to Attorney General Edwin Meese, issues what author Charlie Savage will call “a prescient seven-page manifesto.” Tarr writes that signing statements are “presently underutilized and could become far more important as a tool of presidential management of the agencies, a device for preserving issues of importance in the ongoing struggle for power with Congress, and an aid to statutory interpretation for the courts.” Tarr writes that signing statements have the potential to be used as a threat “with which to negotiate concessions from Congress.” The statements can also be used to tell executive branch agencies how to interpret a law: “The president can direct agencies to ignore unconstitutional provisions or to read provisions in a way that eliminates constitutional or policy problems. This direction permits the president to seize the initiative in creating what will eventually be the agency’s interpretation.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232-233]

Entity Tags: Edwin Meese, Charlie Savage, Ralph Tarr, Reagan administration, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer Samuel Alito, a member of the department’s Litigation Strategy Working Group, writes a memo advocating the creation of a pilot project designed to increase the frequency and impact of presidential signing statements (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985 and October 1985). The rationale is to use signing statements to “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” Alito focuses on the use of signing statements to parallel the legislative history of a bill, a relatively modest view, but still recognizes the potentially revolutionary nature of the idea. He writes that signing statements must be used incrementally, so as not to draw undue attention from civil libertarians and key Congressional members. “[D]ue to the novelty of the procedure and the potential increase of presidential power,” he writes, “[C]ongress is likely to resent the fact that the president will get the last word on questions of interpretation.” Alito suggests that President Reagan begin issuing signing statements only on bills affecting the Justice Department, and later issue such statements for bills that affect other areas of the federal government. “As an introductory step, our interpretative statements should be of moderate size and scope,” he writes. “Only relatively important questions should be addressed. We should concentrate on points of true ambiguity, rather than issuing interpretations that may seem to conflict with those of Congress. The first step will be to convince the courts that presidential signing statements are valuable interpretive tools.” President Reagan will issue signing statements that challenge, interpret, or actually rewrite 95 sections of bills, far more than any other president. His successor, George H. W. Bush, will challenge 232 sections of bills. [Savage, 2007, pp. 233-234]

Entity Tags: Litigation Strategy Working Group, George Herbert Walker Bush, Samuel Alito, US Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Edwin Meese.Edwin Meese. [Source: GQ (.com)]Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power - The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of 'Checks and Balances' - Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system (see 1787 and 1793). The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.” According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 47-48] Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 50]

Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Reagan administration, Domestic Policy Committee, US Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Walter Dellinger, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes of the necessity for presidential signing statements: “If the president may properly decline to enforce a law, at least when it unconstitutionally encroaches on his powers, then it arguably follows that he may properly announce to Congress and to the public that he will not enforce a provision of an enactment he is signing. If so, then a signing statement that challenges what the president determines to be an unconstitutional encroachment on his power, or that announces the president’s unwillingness to enforce… such a provision, can be a valid and reasonable exercise of presidential authority.” President Clinton will issue signing statements challenging or commenting on 140 legislative provisions during his eight years in office (see February 1996). [Savage, 2007, pp. 235]

Entity Tags: Walter Dellinger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Clinton administration, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 7-9] Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 299]
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. [Savage, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Charlie Savage, William Kristol, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Harriet E. Miers, George W. Bush, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. [Savage, 2007, pp. 76-78] As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 84]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Lawrence Wilkerson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David S. Addington, Jay S. Bybee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney gives one of the first public indications that he and his office have a keen and active interest in expanding the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Interviewed by ABC’s Cokie Roberts, Cheney openly discusses his interest in reversing the restraints placed on the presidency after Watergate and the Vietnam War. He calls the restraints “unwise compromises” that serve to “weaken the presidency and the vice presidency.” His job, he explains, is to reverse the “erosion of [presidential] powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job.” Cheney says he has laid out his case to President Bush, who agrees with his rationale and his agenda. “One of the things that I feel an obligation on—and I know the president does, too, because we talked about it—is to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Cokie Roberts

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law creating the Institute of Education Sciences, a subsidiary of the Department of Education. The new institute is designed to generate independent statistics about student performance. The law stipulates that the institute’s director may conduct and publish research “without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department.” President Bush issues a signing statement indicating that contrary to the law, the director will be responsible to the secretary of education. Since the president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, the statement asserts, “the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education.” Bush’s signing statement directly contradicts the letter and the intent of Congress’s law. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law that states US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general will inform Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries. President Bush issues a signing statement directly contradicting the law. According to Bush’s statement, the inspector general “shall refrain” from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Charlie Savage, US Department of Justice, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes an intelligence bill that requires the Justice Department to inform it as to how often and in what situation the FBI is using special “national security” wiretaps on US soil. The bill also requires the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. It contains 11 other sections mandating reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement asserting his right to ignore or override every element of it. He can and will withhold information from Congress as he sees fit, he claims in the statement. [Savage, 2007, pp. 238-239]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law requiring the director of national intelligence (DNI) to recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement ordering the executive branch—including the DNI—to construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing “equal protection” for all: a legalistic phrasing designed to sidestep the law. Bush has long been an opponent of any sort of affirmative action program; as recently as 2003, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration’s “equal protection” arguments and in favor of a race-conscious affirmative action program. In his signing statement, Bush advances the “equal protection” argument over affirmative action in spite of the Supreme Court’s rejection of that argument. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 240-241]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, US Supreme Court, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law forbidding US troops in Colombia, who are there advising the government in its struggle against Marxist rebels funded by drug money, from engaging in any combat against the rebels except in self-defense. The law also caps the number of American soldiers deployed in Colombia at 800. President Bush issues a signing statement that only he, as the commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces. Therefore, the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Civil Liberties

Public administration specialist Philip Cooper determines that during his first term, George W. Bush issued over 500 objections to Congressional legislation that he signed into law. Almost all of his objections were codified in presidential “signing statements,” which have no legal weight per se but have been used by Bush and previous presidents to cite objections or exceptions to legislative provisions. Although the administration’s point man on signing statements is David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s legal adviser and chief of staff, most of the legal objections for the statements are sourced from the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget. 82 of Bush’s signing statements are based on the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see January 9-13, 2006), 77 relate to the administration’s perception of the president’s exclusive power over foreign policy, 48 to his power to withhold information required by Congress to protect national security, and 37 to his powers as commander in chief. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007]

Entity Tags: Philip Cooper, David S. Addington, Office of Management and Budget, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Abraham Sofaer, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law that forbids the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and their contractors from firing or otherwise punishing any employee who informs Congress about possible wrongdoing. President Bush issues a signing statement that says only he or his appointees will decide whether employees of either agency can give information to Congress. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law requiring the Customs and Border Patrol to relocate its illegal immigrant checkpoints near Tucson, Arizona, every seven days in order to prevent smugglers from being able to avoid those checkpoints. President Bush signs the law, then issues a signing statement saying that the Border Patrol should view the “relocation provision as advisory rather than mandatory” because, in his view, only the president has the constitutional authority to decide how to deploy law enforcement officers. As a result of Bush’s signing statement, Border Patrol authorities disobey the law, and explain to investigators from the Government Accountability Office that the law is not mandatory, but “advisory.” White House spokesman Tony Fratto later says in response to the Border Patrol’s refusal to obey the law: “The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 242-243; Boston Globe, 6/19/2007]

Entity Tags: US Customs and Border Protection, George W. Bush, Tony Fratto, Government Accountability Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a law that says when Congress makes a request, scientific information “prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay.” President Bush contradicts this legal assertion in a signing statement that says he can order researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Speaking to a cheering crowd of military families in Kansas, President Bush declares that he has no intention of following the laws requiring warrants for wiretaps (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) because Congress authorized the use of military force against terrorists (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), and because he has the power to bypass laws at his own discretion in the interest of national security. The Kansas appearance is part of an election-style “blitz” of appearances around the country designed to build support for the warrantless wiretapping program, and to bolster support for Republicans in the midterm elections (see January 20, 2006). “I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you what [the AUMF] means,” he says. “It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people but it didn’t prescribe the tactics.… If [terrorism suspects] are making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why, to protect you.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far.Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far. [Source: MeFeedia]Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 243]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, Christopher Kelley, Jack Beermann, Bruce Fein, David Golove, George W. Bush, Phillip Cooper, Steven Calabresi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Board of Governors of the American Bar Association (ABA) votes unanimously to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his presidential authority by using signing statements to assert that he can ignore or override laws passed by Congress (see April 30, 2006 and September 2007). ABA president Michael Greco, who served with former Republican govenor William Weld (R-MA), appoints a bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel of legal experts, including former government officials, legal scholars, and retired FBI Director William Sessions, to carry out the inquiry. The ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine will work for two months on a report (see July 23, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 244-245]

Entity Tags: Michael Greco, ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, American Bar Association, George W. Bush, William Weld, William S. Sessions

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Inspired in part by the American Bar Association’s upcoming task force report on President Bush’s use of signing statements to ignore the law (see July 23, 2006), Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) holds a hearing on signing statements. Specter asks the White House to send either Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, to testify to the use of the statements. Instead, in what some observers feel is a calculated snub, the White House sends Michelle Boardman, a low-ranking Justice Department deputy. Boardman refuses to answer questions about the use of signing statements by Bush, and instead argues that Bush has shown respect to Congress by using signing statements to indicate his refusal to comply with legislation rather than vetoing entire bills. “Respect for the legislative branch is not shown through [making] a veto,” she tells the assembled committee members. “Respect for the legislative branch, when we have a well-crafted bill, the majority of which is constitutional, is shown when the president chooses to construe a particular statement in keeping with the Constitution, as opposed to defeating an entire bill that would serve the nation.” The president has the power and responsibility to ignore any portion of any law passed by Congress when he feels it conflicts with the Constitution, she says, even in cases “where the Supreme Court has yet to rule on an issue, but the president has determined that a statutory law violates the Constitution.” She notes that previous presidents also used signing statements to raise constitutional questions about specific portions of selected legislation. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is unconvinced by Boardman’s arguments. Bush is using signing statements, he says, “to advance a view of executive power that, as far as I can tell, has no bounds. [The White House has] assigned itself the sole responsibility for deciding which laws it will comply with, and in the process has taken upon itself the powers of all three branches of government.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 248-249]

Entity Tags: Michelle Boardman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury, Arlen Specter, Russell D. Feingold

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The American Bar Association (ABA)‘s Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine issues its final report for its investigation into whether President Bush has exceeded his presidential authority by using signing statements to assert that he can ignore or override laws passed by Congress (see June 4, 2006).
Bush Violating the Constitution - The report concludes that Bush is violating the Constitution by signing a bill and then issuing a signing statement declaring that he will refuse to obey selected sections of that bill. The president’s own belief that a particular provision of a law is unconstitutional carries no legal weight, and gives him no right to ignore or disobey that provision, the task force finds. The Constitution gives presidents only two options: veto a bill, or sign it and enforce it. “The president’s constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being, unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” the report reads. “The Constitution is not what the president says it is.”
De Facto Line-Item Veto - Signing statements as used by Bush and earlier presidents (see 1984-1985, August 23, 1985 - December 1985, October 1985, February 6, 1986 and After, and November 1993) are evolving into a kind of back-door line-item veto, which the Constitution does not grant presidents—especially when Congress cannot override it. “A line-item veto is not a constitutionally permissible alternative,” the report reads, “even when the president believes that some provisions of a bill are unconstitutional. A president could easily contrive a constitutional excuse to decline enforcement of any law he deplored, and transform his qualified veto into a monarch-like absolute veto.”
Bringing the Presidency Back into Alignment - Over 150 newspaper editorial boards, columnists, and cartoonists quickly endorse the ABA’s call to end the abuse of signing statements. Some critics of the ABA report say that, in attempting to avoid singling out Bush for criticism, the task force failed to address the root issue behind the signing statements—the unitary executive theory espoused by the administration (see April 30, 1986). Instead of asking that signing statements themselves be ended, some critics say, the Bush administration’s attempts to usurp other branches’ power for the presidency must be curbed. Law professor Laurence Tribe calls the Bush administration “pathological power holders” and “misfits” who are abusing a valid presidential tool. Task force member Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman, says the fundamental issue is to bring the presidency back into proper alignment with the other two branches. “It’s not about Bush, it’s about what should be the responsibility of a president,” he says. “We are saying that the president of the United States has an obligation to follow the Constitution and exercise only the authority the Constitution gives him. That’s a central tenet of American conservatism—to constrain the centralization of power.” [American Bar Association, 7/23/2006 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 245-247]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, Bush administration (43), Mickey Edwards, Laurence Tribe, American Bar Association

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116] A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007] Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 230-231]

Entity Tags: Laurence Tribe, John Dean, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush, Charlie Savage, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Christopher Kelley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Barack Obama orders a review of former President Bush’s signing statements. Bush often used signing statements to instruct administration officials how to implement, or to ignore, Congressional legislation and other laws (see Early 2005, January 13, 2006, and September 2007). Obama has sent memos to numerous federal agencies directing them to review Bush’s signing statements. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that other presidents have used signing statements to note potential problems and conflicts, and says Obama will continue that practice. But, Gibbs says, Obama will not use signing statements to disregard Congress’s intent in its legislation. [Associated Press, 3/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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